As various forms of infrastructure surrounding open source software continue to evolve, the topic of the importance of these ecosystems (their value, why they matter, which ones are mature, etc.) are progressively relevant. My analysis of the phases in the development of the ecosystem of open source software is as follows:
- Phase 1: Purely open source stage. The technology doesn't feature any commercial support and may or may have reached a level of production-ready stability. The ecosystem consists mostly of the participating community of contributors to said open source project. Most likely the technology scratches an itch or serves as a narrow, niche solution but the concept of solving a real business problem is foreign. Example(s) - open source implementations of Jingle
- Phase 2: Entrance into the marketplace. Often marked by the initial offering of commercial services or "productization" of open source code. The ecosystem exhibits more diversity with the presence of customers, deployments in production environments and third-party, value-added enablers like system integrators. This represents the moment at which disruption has begun to produce forms of monetization. Official commercial presence directly associated with the open source technology is notable, as is the mounting corroboration of its commercial viability. Example(s) - Untangle
- Phase 3: Momentum takeoff drives growth. A midpoint in the evolution of an ecosystem as either the open source technology gathers enough momentum to continue forward or levels off and remains relatively stagnant. More is known as a result of experience gained from repeated testing, releases, implementations and deployments. Strengths and weaknesses are being documented as well as the accepted value proposition. Partner networks, consisting of domestic and international constituents, continue to fill out. Example(s) - Alfresco, Funambol, Zimbra
- Phase 4: Predictability. After the ecosystem reaches an invariable point of cultivation, momentum transfers into sustained equilibrium. The technology's constraints are accepted while previously unrecognized benefits are few and far between. Assuming no overt change in strategy or in standing, rapid growth rates become a relic while drastic changes to the structure of the ecosystem are rare and have been replaced by those calculable in nature. Most successful open source software will have this as the peak of potential. Example(s) - Red Hat Linux, MySQL (still in the early stages)
- Phase 5: Emergence as full-fledged platform. The transformation from ecosystem into platform represents the highest form of an evolved open source ecosystem, in addition to its final maturation phase. Here, the open source technology has translated disruption into becoming an established enabler of innovation. Having proven its technical merits as well as its business value, doubts about the sustainability of the open source software are irrelevant, as the challenge lies in aligning with its varied capabilities.